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Aerial view of Caerphilly Castle

Caerphilly Castle, Wales - Strategically Brilliant for Its Time and Haunted in Ours


Caerphilly Castle in south Wales stands proud amongst the medieval fortifications and strongholds in the United Kingdom and is classed among the finest in Europe. It is also one of the largest in Britain, stretching across 30 acres, second in size only to beautiful Windsor Castle. For its time, the design was revolutionary, and it is remarkably well-preserved.

The Bloody History of Caerphilly Castle

The site had always been of great strategic importance and it appears that the Romans had a fort near the present fortifications at one point. The origins of the castle lie in the Anglo-Norman expansion into South Wales in the 1260s when a baron by the name of Gilbert De Clare, or Red Gilbert, started to build the castle in Glamorgan to seize lands from the independent Welsh nobility.

De Clare was confronted by the great Welsh leader, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd and Caerphilly was burnt in 1270 by the Welsh but was later rebuilt by De Clare who used it to cement his hold on the rich lands of south Wales.

The town of Caerphilly grew around the fortress and its medieval gatehouses can still be seen. Because the castle was strategically important, it was often besieged, as it was in 1294 and again in 1316 by Welsh rebels when the lady of the castle led the successful resistance. It was also attacked during the revolt against the unpopular English monarch Edward II, who had sought refuge in Wales. So strong were its walls that a mere one hundred men loyal to King Edward were able to withstand an army.

After the crushing of the last great Welsh revolt, the castle was no longer needed, and it was abandoned by the late 15 th century. Its water defenses or moats drained away and many of its stones stolen or used in local buildings. However, some Royalist forces established a fort near the present-day castle during the English Civil War.

Re-enactment of a Parliamentary assault on the castle during the English Civil War (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Re-enactment of a Parliamentary assault on the castle during the English Civil War (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A wealthy aristocrat, the Marquess of Bute, purchased the castle and partially restored it. The local Welsh tourist board took over the site after WWII when the marquis’ descendant donated the fortress to the state. They restored the castle and even re-flooded the moats.

Because of the spectacular nature of the fortress, it is used regularly for television productions. And like ever castle, it has its own ghost story- many believe that the grounds are haunted by spirits of the de Clare family, ghostly soldiers, as well as by the Green Lady, a banshee type creature who rises from the moat at night.

The Innovative Design of Caerphilly Castle

The castle is located on the edge of Caerphilly town. De Clare ordered a local river to be damned to create a series of moats and artificial lakes and as a result, it stands on a number of man-made islands. The two wards of the castle are built on separate islands making them more secure since they can only be accessed by drawbridges.

The water defenses, which are a series of moats, are among the most impressive in Europe. Fortification consists of two concentric defensive walls and along the walls are a number of well-preserved towers with battlements.

Caerphilly Castle, Wales, from the south-west (DeFacto / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Influenced by Caerphilly beauty and advantageous design, Edward I built a number of similar castles during his conquest of North Wales. A remarkable feature of the medieval fortification is its large gatehouses which are almost unique to South with the two circular towers that flank the main entrance built on pyramid-shaped bases. One of the towers has since subsided and is known affectionately as the ‘leaning tower’.

Within the inner ward is the Great Hall where the lords would receive and entertain his guests. There are also the remains of the state apartments where the lord lived and where the monarch resided if he visited the castle. Here there are some fine examples of corbels or sculpted buttresses which they are said to represent members of the Royal court in the 14 th century.

The interior of the Caerphilly Castle (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The interior of the Caerphilly Castle (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The East Gatehouse, Constable's Hall and Braose gallery have been restored and can be visited, while replica medieval siege weapons are on display in the fortress.

The Journey to Caerphilly Castle in south Wales

Today the fortifications are popular with visitors from the UK and beyond. There is a great deal of public transport to Caerphilly and day tours from London.

The fortress is managed by the Welsh Tourist Authority who charge an admission fee to enter and maintain the site, and for those wishing to stay longer, hostels to hotels near Caerphilly Castle are plentiful.

Top image: Aerial view of Caerphilly Castle                           Source: By Cadw Wales

By Ed Whelan

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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